In the last 5 years, I've become something of an expert at managing my personal finances. Not that my finances are in great shape - it is what it is - but at least I'm good at working with what I have.
I've done this with a combination of technology and an incessant desire to know everything about my past, present, and future, especially financially.
I use Simple for my banking, and I love it. It gives me a clear picture of what is happening with my money in real time. The analytics are amazing. Of course, analytics alone can't work magic. You still have to analyze the analytics. For instance, I could get an average of what I spend on food monthly from the time I started using Simple and you'd think that'd be a pretty good estimate, but alas, it is not. The picture has changed from 2013, because I gained a live-in girlfriend in 2014. And now this year, that girlfriend has started Anesthesia school, so I am paying for all food for both of us. So the picture has changed. I think this kind of analysis is good for my Data Science future, but also is good for keeping up to date with myself and planning my future.
To do that, I have Google Docs spreadsheet that spans from 2001 to 2020. I am able to capture most of the financial picture of my past using old bank statements, standard military pay charts, and memory. This spreadsheet has become my budget, and a predictive model for the future. Using past bonus and raise percentages, I can extrapolate out to the future to determine (if all goes well) what I should be making in 1 - 5 years. Furthermore, I can determine how to most effectively manage my debt. My loans are all calculated by APR, so it even takes that into account.
Unfortunately, sometimes cold hard analytics fall out of the way in favor of anxiety and stress, which is often the result of some of this analysis. When you move the dials all you can, and there is still a negative sign in the leftover balance of the month, you realize the best option, financially, is not the best option sociologically. So while the Dave Ramesy cult followers of the world will tell me that halting payments into my 401(k) and even worse, borrowing from my 401(k) to get through some rough times is a terrible idea, I would argue that they are fucking idiots because not all situations are that goddamn black and white.
Obviously I don't prefer this plan. But I've spent the last month having absolutely no fun, going crazy in my apartment, ducking friends because I can't afford to hang out, while my girlfriend does the same - and this is causing stress, and stress causes unhappiness. And friends, you cannot put a price on happiness. We're not even talking about happiness here, it's contentment. Just getting by and not hating life. It's a big fucking deal. I cannot do 1-2 years of this.
So I pulled the trigger, just now, on taking out half of my 401(k). I had ruled out this option in the black and white scenario. But a crying girlfriend can change everything. We will not live in poverty, or be ashamed of not being able to see friends because we can't afford it. It's ridiculous. I realize this is First World Problems, but you know what it isn't? 1% problems. This is 99% problems. I'm not a big Occupy Wallstreet guy, and I don't think we should just go take people's money and redistribute it all Commie style, but you have to admit, the game is stacked pretty strongly in favor of the fucking wealthy. It's a goddamn logarithmic curve. Getting over the hump is damn near impossible, but if you can, the rest is easy. Money begets money. And you know what begets poverty? Poverty. It is WAY more expensive in America to be poor than it is to be rich. And that is the fucking travesty of our time.
If things continue on track for me, I will be over the hump of the logarithmic curve by mid-2016. This hurts to think about, because I had every intention of being out of debt by this month a year ago. Plans change. Situations change. Anesthesia school is expensive. Grad school is expensive. Food is expensive. There's nothing I can do about it but continue to plug along. But I can't live like a pauper. I've worked too hard and for too long to go back to college kid life. Plus, I'm in my 30s, I hate college kids.
I can't change the rules of the system we live in, so the only thing I can do to get over the hump is to beat the system at its game. Which is why I'm going back to school, and why I'm supporting my girlfriend in what could be a very lucrative career. As disappointed as I am to see success put off for a few more years, I know it will come. Patience and resolve will get us there. Until then, we'll just keep doing what we're doing.
Everything will be ok.